Full Decriminalisation of Prostitution?


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This op-ed document will cover peer-reviewed, academic articles and analyse the arguments for the partial
decriminalisation of sex trade/prostitution. -Alongside the perils of opting to fully decriminalise sex trade/prostitution.
Meaning the removal of all criminal laws directed towards the agreed sale of sex between adults inclusive of those
that buy and sell sex who are not the person directly undertaking the task of servicing the client as a sex
Additionally, there is no conclusive powerful evidence that full decriminalisation of sex trade/prostitution will result in
the protection, safety, health and human rights of sex traders/prostitutes. Decriminalisation may lessen stigma and
the resulting discrimination of sex traders/prostitutes but not in its entirety.
The following issues may arise as a direct result of the full decriminalisation of sex trade:
1. Full legalisation/decriminalisation of prostitution/sex trade would ultimately benefit the pimps and
traffickers who exploit sex traders/prostitutes for profit and not the individual sex traders/prostitutes as
a whole.
The above statement is supported by what transpired as a result of the Netherlands and Germany practicing the
full legalisation of sex trade/prostitution. It resulted in the individual sex traders/prostitutes themselves, the
buyers, pimps who, under the legalisation regime became third party businessmen and legitimate sexual
entrepreneurs. However, the pimps and buyers could not be fully regulated nor did it result in everyone who
worked in the sex industry registering with the regulatory bodies that were tasked with regulating the industry to
ensure the safety of the sex traders (Weitzer 2012). Plus, to ensure that there was no sale of sex involving
underage persons. For example, a DW news article by Elliot Douglas, 2021 noted that according to the last
federal official report from 2019 only 40 000 out of the estimated 400 000 sex traders/prostitutes were registered
under the 2002 Prostitution Protection Act. This translates to over 90% the sex traders/prostitutes operating in
Germany inclusive of the brothel owners without a licence as unregistered enterprises or individual sex
traders/prostitutes. As result they are technically operating illegally in an unregulated capacity.
2. Full legalisation/decriminalization of prostitution and the sex industry would promote sex trafficking.
One of the root causes that has resulted in an increase in sex trafficking cases reported and unreported is the full
legalisation/decriminalisation of prostitution/sex trade. This is evidenced in the case of the Netherlands who opted
to go the full legalisation of prostitution/sex trade based on the argument that it would help to end the exploitation
of desperate immigrant women who had been trafficked there to work as sex slaves. However, a study by
Budapest Group, 1999 80% of women in the brothels of the Netherlands were trafficked from other countries for
the sole purpose of working as a sex slave. The aforementioned, is evidenced by a report generated by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Europe report that found traffickers were using the legalisation of sex
trade/prostitution as a vehicle to bring in women they have coached in to the country under a work permit that
allowed them to work in the Netherlands as a prostitute. However, it merely served to mask the fact that those
women were coerced and a victim of sex trafficking being brought to Europe & the Netherlands to work as sex
slaves against their will.

3. Full legalisation/decriminalisation of prostitution does not control the sex industry. It expands it.
According Assistant Professor, Seo-Young Cho, the main effect of opting to fully decriminalise the sex
trade/prostitution is an increase in and expansion of the sex trade. It also makes it easier to market and sell sex
trafficked women out in the open under the guise that they are willing participants who chose to work as
prostitutes. As opposed to what might be truly happing which is the women being coerced to work as a sex slave.
The School of Economics and Political Science, 2013 paper found that out of 150 countries on average the
countries that opted to legalise prostitution/sex trade experience a drastic increase in reported and unreported
human trafficking inflows.
4. Full legalisation/decriminalisation of prostitution increases clandestine, illegal and street prostitution.
Contrary to popular claims the full decriminalisation of prostitution does not result in the overall decrease in
clandestine, illegal street prostitution and brothels. However, research shows that countries that have legalised or
decriminalised commercial sex often experience a surge in human trafficking, pimping, and other related crimes.
For example, in the Sneep case women were coerced to sell sex via using intimate relationships and brutal
violence by German pimps that had traveled across the border to the Netherlands with the sole purposes of taking
over large parts of the Red-Light District in Amsterdam.
5. Full legalisation of prostitution and decriminalisation of the sex trade increases instances child
As result of the full decriminalisation of the sex trade in the Netherlands an increase of child prostitution was
observed. The Amsterdam Child Right organisation assessed the number of child prostitutes had drastically
increased by more than 300% between 1996-2001 as a result of the full decriminalisation of the sex trade.
Additionally, according to a 1998 study undertaken by the by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) for
the Australian National Inquiry on Child Prostitution, noted that was a significant increase in child prostitution
organised commercial areas in the state of Victoria compared to other Australian states where prostitution has not
been fully legalised.
6. Full legalisation/decriminalisation of prostitution does not protect the women in prostitution.

According to the 2-studies conducted by Raymond, Hughes & Gomez, 2001; Raymond, d‟Cunha, Ruhaini
Dzuhayatin, Hynes & Santos, 2002 that interviewed a total of 186 women working in the sex trade as prostitutes.
The registered brothels/prostitution establishments did nothing much to protect them regardless of their legal status
as an establishment. Additionally, the full decriminalisation of prostitution in New Zealand brought to light the fact
that 73% of prostituted persons were in need to pay for household expense. However, half of that 73% that were
street-based or transgender had no other sources of income living them solely reliant on prostitution to survive or
baily survive, (The Impact of the Prostitution Reform Act on the Health and Safety practices of Sex Workers: pp.

The following arguments highlight why partial decriminalisation of the sex trade is necessary:
1. Countries that have adopted the Nordic model, aka the Swedish model approach to prostitution, which
exempts the exploited individual from criminal liability for selling sex as a result of the partial decriminalisation
of the sex trade. Resulting in a significant decrease in the number of people buying and selling sex. A
government study conducted and published in 2008 found that approximately 300 women were prostituted
on Swedish streets. However about 300 women and 50 men were identified to selling sex via the Swedish
online prostitution advertisements.
2. A 2007, study showed that an estimated 15 times higher rate per capita of prostituted persons in countries
where sex buying is legal. Additionally in Norway prior to the criminalisation of sex buying and buyers in 2009,
there an estimated 8 to 9 times higher rate per capita of prostituted persons than Sweden. It goes to show
that full decriminalisation of the sex trade is not the solution to the problem but instead leaves room to further
exploit vulnerable persons who are jobless with no other source of income or who suffer from a disability and
have no means to earn an income.
3. Based in the empirical data in the above 2 sections a sex buyers demand for access to primarily women’s
bodies creates a market for trafficking that fuels the sex trade. For example, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress
and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children of 2000 (Palermo Protocol) stipulates that
parties signed to the observing the protocols rules have a duty to discourage the demand that fosters all
exploitation of the person. This especially means anything that would directly contribute to the trafficking of
women and children for the purposes of exploiting them. It requires that the states that signed on to adhere
to the protocol address demand by tackling the root cause of the trafficking demand. Therefore, by South
Africa fully decriminilising the sex trade they are going to create an environment that allows for demand for
the prostitutes and sex slaves to increase. Resulting in an increased demand for traffickers to provide more
people for the sex trade.
4. The European Parliament in 2014 called upon member states to recognise that there is an explicit link between
prostitution/ the sex trade with human trafficking and the modern-day slavery problem. They found that to
reduce the demand effectively there would need to criminalise the purchase of sex like Sweden, Norway and
Iceland had done. Furthermore, they stated that criminalising the purchase of sex is the most effective tool
available to the member states as a means to reduce human trafficking.
5. The Partial Decriminalisation of the Sex Trade Vs the Full Decriminalisation of the Sex Trade Model
The Partial Decriminalisation of the Sex Trade Results in:
1. The criminalisation of the buying of sex but not the selling of sex
2. Due to prostitutes being financially dependent on criminalised clients, demand reduces as some clients/sex
buyers are put off by the risk of arrest.
3. Helps remove criminalisation of the exploited persons giving them room to either get out or seek help if
their being abused or exploited by the buyers and pimps.
4. It helps to decrease exploitation in the commercial sex trade but does not eradicate it.
Awareness for Child Trafficking Africa (ACT Africa)
Partial Decriminalisation of the Sex Trade Op-ed
Full Decriminalisation of the Sex Trade Results in:
1. Confers rights on the pimps, buyers and brothel owners at the expense of the prostitute/exploited person.
2. Resulting in an increase of violence and exploitation while increasing public health and safety
3. Makes it harder to go after traffickers who traffic in sex salves as they can claim that they are legitimate sex
trade businessman with willing participants who are not being coerced to work for them as prostitutes.
4. Empowers prostitutes to operate independently, however it also makes them vulnerable targets to
However, if South Africa does fully decriminalise the sex trade, it would be detrimental to the fight against
trafficking and exploitation. Therefore, it would be prudent for the South African government to account for the
lived experiences of people in the sex trade, primarily the exploited persons and the prostitutes who work in
brothels and the streets. Furthermore, in countries where they have fully decriminalised prostitution, it led to an
increase in the exploitation of persons, including an increase in trafficking activity. However, no exploited victim
should be punished or penalised for their own coerced exploitation. But the pimps, brothel owners and buyers
should be prosecuted for their activities and not be allowed to lawfully exploit prostitutes.

References List:

Bureau NRM (2002). Trafficking in Human Beings: First Report of the Dutch National Rapporteur. The Hague.
November 2002.
Byström, M. (2001). Prostitutionen breder ut sig i Norrland. Dagens Nyheter (Sweden). February 16, 2001.
Charlotta Holmström, “Prostitution och människohandel för sexuella ändamål i Sverige: Omfattning, förekomst och
kunskapsproduktion,” in Prostitution i Norden: Forskningsrapport, ed. Charlotta Holmström and May-Len Skilbrei
(Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2008), 314.
Daley, S. (2001). New Rights for Dutch Prostitutes, but No Gain. New York Times. August 12, 2002: A1 and 4.
Douglas, E. (2021,). Sex Workers Speak Out Against German Prostitution Law. Available at
Dutting, G. (2000). Legalized Prostitution in the Netherlands – Recent Debates. Women’s Global Network for
Reproductive Rights, 3. November, 2002: 15-16.
ECPAT Australia. (1998). Youth for Sale: ECPAT Australia’s Inquiry into the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of
Children in Australia. Available from ECPAT, Australia.
European Parliament resolution of 26 February 2014 on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on
gender equality (2013/2103(INI)). Para 6, at
For a breakdown of the Nordic study’s figures and general population statistics, see Waltman, “Sweden’s
Prohibition of Purchase of Sex,” 458–59; Waltman, “Prohibiting Sex Purchasing and Ending Trafficking,” 146–47;
and Waltman, The Politics of Legal Challenges: 479–80.
In Denmark, where purchase of sex is legal, an increase was observed from 3,886 persons being prostituted in 2002
to 5,567 visibly prostituted persons in 2007. See Jeanett Bjønness, “Holdninger til prostitution i Danmark,” in
Prostitution i Norden, ed. Holmström and Skilbrei, 108. An increase over the same period has also been observed in
Norway: Marianne Tveit and May-Len Skilbrei, “Kunnskap om prostitusjon og menneskehandel i Norge,” in
Prostitution i Norden, ed. Holmström and Skilbrei, 220–21.
Länsstyrelsen Stockholm, Summary: The Extent and Development of Prostitution in Sweden (Stockholm:
Länsstyrelsen, 2015). 30 Länsstyrelsen Stockholm (2015). 31 A. Kotsadam & N. Jakobsson, “Shame on you, John!
Laws, Stigmatization and the Demand for Sex” European Journal of Law and Economics 37 (2014): 393-404. 32
Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing
the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, opened for signature Dec. 12, 2000, 2237
U.N.T.S. 319 (entered into force Dec. 25, 2003) [hereafter Palermo Protocol].
Niklas Jakobsson and Andreas Kotsadam, “The Law and Economics of International Sex Slavery: Prostitution Laws
and Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation,” European Journal of Law and Economics 35, no. 1 (2013),
doi:10.1007/s10657-011-9232-0; Seo-Young Cho, Axel Dreher, and Eric
Neumayer, “Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?,” World Development 41 (2013),
doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2012.05.023. See also
Gergana Danailova-Trainor and Patrick Belser, Globalization and the Illicit Market for Human Trafficking: An
Empirical Analysis of Supply and Demand. Working Paper No. 78, (Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour
Organization, 2006) which found that countries with more prostitution are more likely to be destinations for victims
of sex trafficking. Budapest Group (1999).
The Relationship Between Organized Crime and Trafficking in Aliens. Austria: International Centre for Migration
Policy Development. June 1999.
ProCon.org. (2018,). Should Prostitution Be Legal. Available at https://prostitution.procon.org/questions/shouldprostitution-be-legal/
Awareness for Child Trafficking Africa (ACT Africa)
Partial Decriminalisation of the Sex Trade Op-ed
Resolution 1983 (2014) Final version: Prostitution, trafficking and modern slavery in Europe. Para 12.1.1,
Tiggeloven, C. (2001,). Child Prostitution in the Netherlands. Available at
Swedish Institute, The Ban against the Purchase of Sexual Services: An Evaluation 1999-2008 (2010): 9.
Waltman, “Law’s Reasons, Impact, Potential,” 459.
Weitzer, R. (2012). Prostitution: Facts and fictions. In D. Hartmann & C. Uggen (Eds.), The Contexts reader (pp. 223–
230). New York, NY: W. W. Norton

Written & Compiled by Shalati Sithole (Legal/Admin Officer of Awareness for Child Trafficking Africa (ACT Africa)

#notofulldecrim #notolegalisingprostitution #endhumantrafficking #endgenderbasedviolence



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